Nairobi, February 14, 2022 – Authorities in the Somali states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle should investigate and hold to account police officers who assaulted and arrested journalists and ensure that security personnel do not pose a threat to media freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On the evening of January 24, a group of police officers in the town of Beledweyne, a city in Somalia’s Hirshabelle state, harassed and beat Radio Hiiraan Weyne reporter Abdullahi Ali Abukar, accusing him of leaking footage of a January 21 police raid on the outlet, according to a Facebook statement published by the privately owned station and Abdullahi, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Separately, on the afternoon January 30, police officers in the town of Abudwak, in the Galmudug regional state, raided the privately owned Sooyal TV and Radio offices, taking equipment and arresting the station’s director, Mahad Bashiir Xilif, according to a joint statement by local press rights groups the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and the Somali Media Association (SOMA), and another statement by the Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ).
“Unless each arbitrary arrest or assault on a journalist is investigated credibly, impunity in attacks on the press will continue to fester within the ranks of Somalia’s security forces,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should investigate the attacks on journalists in the Galmudug and Hirshabelle regions, hold those officers responsible, and ensure that equipment damaged or confiscated during the raid on Sooyal TV and Radio is replaced or returned.”
On January 24, Abdullahi was walking home from work when he was approached by a group of officers, and accused of leaking CCTV footage of a January 21 police raid on Radio Hiiraan Weyne. Abdullahi told CPJ that Beledweyne police commander Mohamed Mohamud Durdage was in charge of the officers.
During that raid, Abdullahi was arrested and detained for several hours, alongside six of his colleagues, following the station’s reporting of an opposition group, as CPJ reported at the time.
For about 35 minutes on January 24, the officers forced the journalist to carry heavy stones, left on the streets earlier that day by protestors, and beat him with the butts of their guns, resulting in back and chest pain, according to Abdullahi’s interview with CPJ and a separate interview published on Facebook by Hiiraan Weyne.
In a telephone interview on February 9, Beledweyne police commander Mohamed requested questions via WhatsApp, but did not answer them. CPJ questions sent via messaging application to Hirshabelle Information Minister Mohamed Abdirahman and via Facebook to the Hirshabelle State House, the office of the regional president, were also unanswered.
During the January 30 raid on Sooyal TV and Radio, police broke a desktop computer and confiscated a hard disk and two memory cards, Mahad told CPJ by messaging app, adding that the memory cards have since been returned.
Mahad was arrested and told by police that it was in connection to a January 30 report, published shortly before the raid, about Galmudug police officers on strike, angered by delayed salaries and an alleged government plan to replace them with new recruits.
Police then drove Mahad to the outskirts of Abudwak town, where he was held, blindfolded under a tree, for several hours, the journalist told CPJ. Later that day, the officers moved Mahad to a police station in Abudwak, where he was detained overnight before he was freed unconditionally, following the intervention of his clan’s elders and family.
The officers who raided Sooyal Radio and Television were identified by Mahad and the statements from the local press rights groups as members of the Darwish forces, a police unit deployed at federal and state level, whose mandate includes border policing, protecting government infrastructure and fighting terrorism, according to reports. Darwish officers have been previously trained by or received support from several international actors, including the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping force, the United Nations Mission to Somalia (UNSOM), and the Italian government, according to the joint SJS and SOMA statement as well as reports and statements posted by these groups.
Previously, the European Union’s delegation in Somalia, its training mission in the country (EUTM), and its Capacity Building Mission in Somalia (EUCAP), have also supported the training of Darwish officers, according to these same sources.
Both UNSOM and the European Union delegation said they had not trained or supported local Darwish forces in Galmudug, according to emailed statements sent to CPJ. UNSOM said it is “engaged in efforts to strengthen capable, accountable and rights-based police” in the state and plans to fund future trainings of police officers in human rights.
The European Union said its past support of the Darwish was limited to “specific Federal Darwish units” deployed to another Somali region, the Southwest State. The EU said it would that, follow up on “any evidence or indications that EU-supported Darwish forces had been involved in press freedom violations in Galmudug.”
When CPJ called AMISOM for comment, Gifty Bingley, a spokesperson, said she could not immediately provide comment as the matter did not directly involve AMISOM officers. CPJ emails sent to AMISOM went unanswered.
Someone who answered the phone when CPJ called the Italian embassy to Somalia on February 10 acknowledged receipt of an emailed request for comment, but the questions remained unanswered as of publication time.
In a telephone conversation on February 9, Farah Abdille Hassan, a district commissioner in Abudwak, requested that CPJ send queries via WhatsApp, but did not immediately respond. Sharmarke Godad, the police commissioner in Galgaduud, in whose jurisdiction Abudwak falls, did not answer CPJ’s phone calls and did not respond to queries sent by text message. CPJ emails to the Galmudug State House and its internal security ministry were either unanswered or undelivered.
In a statement sent via messaging application, Galmudug Information Minister Ahmed Shire Falagle told CPJ that the incident had been reported to him by Sooyal. Ahmed said he “apologize[s] to the journalist who had to endure this inappropriate practice,” that the Galmudug government would “get to the bottom of this,” and that local police said they were investigating, “as they were not informed of the raid that took place.”
Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and CPJ has previously documented attacks on the press by security personnel — including arrests and assaults. In a statement on February 9, the United States’ State Department announced visa restrictions for officials who undermined the democratic process, including “unjust arrests or intimidation of journalists.” The SJS and SOMA welcomed the visa bans as a “move to uphold justice,” according to their joint statement.